It has long been the mentality of professional and recreational athletes a like that stretching before an athletic competition prevents injury, reduces next day soreness (delayed onset muscle soreness – DOMS) and improves performance. However, it is important to look at the evidence to see if this old adage holds true. So what does the evidence say?
Stretching and Injury Prevention
- Surprisingly, stretching before exercise has not been shown to reduce an athlete’s risk of injury.
- In the case of (DOMS), the Cochrane Library found that the evidence overwhelmingly states that stretching does not prevent DOMS. They even went so far as to say that no further research should be dedicated to this subject, due to the overwhelming evidence presented.
Stretching and Strength
- Stretching prior to an athletic performance has been shown to decrease performance, as well as strength. A recent study found that male jiu jitsu athletes who stretched prior to activity (compared a control group) demonstrated a decrease of 8.75% in a 1 rep max bench press.
Stretching and Running
- Research has found that sprinters who stretch before a race have slower 20 m sprint times.
- Pre-competition stretching in long distance runners has shown to decreased VO2 max scores in individuals who stretch prior to competition compared to those who do not. This results in a decreased running economy in long distance runners.
Stretching and Neural Tension
- Neural tension has been shown to be a risk factor for future hamstring injuries.
- 14-19% of all hamstring injuries are associated with neuromeningeal structures.
- In these injuries, MRI’s confirmed that no structural muscle damage had taken place.
- Athletes can address hamstring flexibility without creating neural tension with the hamstring stretch with Pilates ball.
How long should I hold a Stretch for?
- If you want to stretch before exercising or competition then use 1 stretch per muscle group (i.e hamstrings) and hold it for 30 seconds, 4 times. Do not stretch a cold muscle.
Decreased Performance with Stretching Before a Competition
- Whenever you lengthen a muscle beyond 20% of its resting muscle length you tear the muscle fibres. You also increase muscle compliance.
- This is a result of altered viscoelastic properties of the musculotendinous junction, which has been suggested to be the cause of the performance deficits.
Are there Benefits to Stretching Before a Competition?
- Stretching before a competition appears to cause a short term decrease in pain. This transient decrease in pain causes the muscle fibres to relax, which increases flexibility (only 30-90 mins). This relaxation of the muscles also decreases the strength of the muscles for the same period of time.
Are there Benefits to Stretching After a Competition?
- Chronic stretching programs have been shown to increase range of motion (ROM) through the addition of myofilaments. Essentially, when the muscle is repairing itself it lays down new muscle fibres.
- Increased ROM has been shown to prevent a number of chronic injuries such rotator cuff tears in professional pitchers, hamstring injuries in track and field athletes; as well as reducing general aches and pains in office workers.
Is There Anything Else I Can Do to Improve my Flexibility?
- Eccentric training has shown similar long-term improvements in flexibility with the added benefit of improved strength and performance. These are complex movements and you should consult a personal trainer before attempting these exercises.
- An example of eccentric exercise is the Nordic hamstring exercise.
If you have any questions regarding any of the information provided, please visit sportsrehabandwellness.ca.